Carpe diem

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018

Carpe diem

Carpe diem: Latin for “seize the day,” a phrase referring to the age-old literary theme (particularly prevalent in lyric poetry) that we should enjoy the present before opportunity — and even life itself — slips away.

EXAMPLES: Carpe diem is the theme of the movie Dead Poets Society (1989). The schoolmaster urges his students to “seize the day” — to live for the moment and for themselves, enjoying life. Robert Herrick’s “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” (1648) (“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may / Old Time is still a-flying …”) is a more classic example, as is sixteenth-century French poet Pierre de Ronsard’s ode to Cassandre (c. 1552), the last stanza of which follows:

Donc, si vous me croyez, mignonne,

Tandis que votre âge fleuronne

En sa plus verte nouveauté,

Cueillez, cueillez votre jeunesse:

Comme à cette fleur la vieillesse

Fera ternir votre beauté.

[So, if you believe me, darling,

While your time is blooming

In its most verdant freshness,

Pluck, pluck your youth:

For like this flower, old age

Will tarnish your beauty.]